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Harvard Report Says Four-Year College Isn’t for Every American

The Harvard University Science Center is seen through the arches of Memorial Hall on the school's campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Photographer: Michael Fein/Bloomberg
The Harvard University Science Center is seen through the arches of Memorial Hall on the school's campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Photographer: Michael Fein/Bloomberg

The U.S. is focusing too much attention on helping students pursue four-year college degrees, when two-year and occupational programs may better prepare them for the job market, a Harvard University report said.

The “college for all” movement has produced only incremental gains as other nations leapfrog the United States, and the country is failing to prepare millions of young people to become employable adults, said the authors of the Pathways to Prosperity Project, based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Most of the 47 million jobs to be created by 2018 will require some postsecondary education, the report said. Educators should offer young people two-year degrees and apprenticeships to achieve career success, and do more to ensure that students who begin such programs complete them, said Robert Schwartz, academic dean at Harvard’s education school, who heads the Pathways project.

“For an awful lot of bored, disengaged kids who are on the fence about completing high school, they need to see a pathway that leads them to a career that is not going to require them to sit in classrooms for the next several years,” Schwartz said yesterday in a telephone interview.

If young people don’t have a degree or credential that helps them begin a career, the U.S. will continue to lag behind in educational attainment and preparing the next generation of workers needed to keep the economy strong, Schwartz said.


About 14 million new job openings by 2018 -- or about half of all positions for people with postsecondary education -- will go to those with an two-year associate’s degree or occupational certificate, the report said, using a job estimate from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University in Washington. These “middle-skilled” jobs include registered nurses, dental hygienists, construction managers and electricians.

Demand is “exploding” in health care, while construction, manufacturing and natural resources will provide about 2.7 million jobs that require a postsecondary credential, the report said.

Two studies released in the last two months raised concerns that the nation’s students aren’t prepared to compete in the global economy. In January, the U.S Department of Education said fewer than half of U.S. students are proficient in science. In December, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development, which represents 34 countries, released the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment in December, showing 15-year-olds in China, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan outperformed the U.S. in a test of reading, science and math.

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